Home > Reviews, Video Games > Review: Mabinogi: Fantasy Life

Review: Mabinogi: Fantasy Life

I wanted to like Mabinogi: Fantasy Life so much. This free-to-play MMORPG came on the recommendation of a friend who really loved it, to the point where he now works as a forum moderator in exchange for in-game currency. This was the same friend who got me playing EVE Online, a game as renowned for its free market, player-driven world as it is for its incredibly high barrier to entry. Based on what I knew of my friend’s playing habits, I knew that Mabinogi would be a challenge but one that would hopefully be worth it. With cute, anime-inspired visuals and a mix of RPG and life-simulation elements, I was quite optimistic.

Mabinogi is based loosely on Celtic mythology, and is set in a land called Uladh. The first thing you’ll notice is that you’re given the option to set your character’s starting age from ten to seventeen: this feature has graced Mabinogi with the nickname of “the loli MMO”. Younger characters begin with lower stats but possess accelerated growth compared to older characters. Characters not only grow through traditional leveling, but age one year every week. At the age of twenty, characters are allowed to “rebirth” themselves, returning to Lv.1 but retaining all of their invested skill points: like Disgaea, this is the key to gaining true power in Mabinogi, as even the most dedicated player will soon hit a point (around Lv.40) when the law of diminishing returns makes further leveling pointless.

The world of Mabinogi is bright and anime-inspired. The graphics are quite low-tech compared to most MMOs, but this grants Mabinogi a degree of accessibility to those of us without powerhouse PCs: you can effectively play Mabinogi on a brick with a graphics card taped to it. Gameplay follows the standard MMO format of accepting quests, grinding monsters and returning for the reward. There is a fairly interesting “main” plotline running through the game, which uses “memory items” to transport you back in time to relive key moments from the backstory in the shoes of the characters that first experienced them.

What Mabinogi really encourages you to do is live out a “fantasy life” (as the title implies) by taking on professions and side-jobs, befriending the townspeople in the process. Alongside the usual array of combat-related skills to learn, there are “Life” skills which include crafting, gathering and even music composition. Each of these skills contributes greatly to your stats, making them a worthwhile investment of time for those seeking to become effective fighters. Sadly, attempting to use these professions to gain money is a long and lonely road: the economy of Mabinogi is incredibly harsh, with everything- from tools to weapon maintenance to the skill books you need to actually advance your skills- so expensive that it almost feels like a zero-sum game. Only the most experienced craftsmen will see any sort of return on their investments, with the majority of people relying on high-level dungeon runs for their money. For beginners, it will be a long time before you can afford anything worthwhile.

Speaking to NPCs can grant you keywords that allow you to probe further into conversation: for example, the resident Priest may grant you the keyword “Tir na Nog”, allowing you to ask other NPCs what they know about it. Though this feature does feel a bit wasted when the majority of citizens (being peasants) return your question with ignorance or even a fourth-wall-breaking accusation of spamming every keyword you know. Part-time jobs give you a short amount of time to gather materials for an equally small amount of payment, but are vital for striking up a friendship with the townsfolk.

The most unique part of Mabinogi’s gameplay is the combat, which functions using a simple rock-paper-scissors mechanic. While the game claims to be classless, a mastery of basic melee is required to advance anywhere in Mabinogi, with the game subtly pushing you towards a hybrid/jack-of-all-trades type. While the basics behind the combat are simple, the execution is anything but, featuring a difficulty curve that is utterly ruthless. The timing window to enter the correct response is incredibly short, and the punishment for an incorrect choice is harsh. Sadly, this system managed to suck most of the fun out of what would otherwise be a pretty nice, skillful combat system. When the game plunges you into a room filled with enemies that will attack at the slightest hesitation, a near-godlike level of reaction time and aggro management is required to survive. The timing window is so strict that most experienced Mabinogi players alter their computer’s registry to increase their avatar’s reaction speed; I can’t help but feel that if you have to go that far, then something is wrong.

Despite all of the little innovations that Mabinogi has, I just couldn’t have fun while playing it. There are portals offering quick travel between towns, but they operate on a very narrow timetable. If you don’t happen to be lucky, then you should get ready to run everywhere. And run. And run some more. Even with basic pathfinding, it can take ten minutes of straight running to get from one town to another, and that comprised most of my gameplay time. It got to the point where I was grinding through the game, spurred on by the notion that I would just “do one more thing” before I called it quits, despite the fact that I was not having fun at all. I saw the signs and I tore myself away from the game before it was too late.

When I played, the European version of Mabinogi was only on its second “Generation” content package. The Korean and American versions are much further on, featuring more skills, selectable races, further plot and a bigger world to explore. Maybe, with all that additional content, the game becomes amazing eventually. Maybe once you’ve overcome the incredible learning curve of the combat system, the game becomes amazing eventually. Maybe once you’ve hit the highest tiers of skill, all your investment pays off and the game becomes amazing eventually. But if such a point exists- and based on the testimony of my friend, it does- I couldn’t reach it.

My grade for Mabinogi: Fantasy Life is Not Recommended. I think this game has surpassed EVE Online in sheer lack of accessibility. Whereas EVE in recent years has striven to include tutorials and help ease new players into the game, Mabinogi does nothing of the sort and retains an incredibly high barrier to entry in its unforgiving combat system. Some genuinely interesting innovations don’t make up for the general mediocrity of the core gameplay, which is dull and repetitive. Don’t be fooled by the cute anime visuals: this game is utterly ruthless and only for those with a keen trigger finger and an incredible patience.

[Images courtesy of MMO Site and the official Mabinogi website.]

  1. Halconnen
    August 1, 2010 at 1:07 am

    I’ll never really understand why you think the combat system is so difficult. I always found it really easy and intuitive. It’s the game’s main selling point, too.

    Hybridization is bollocks early on.

    G3 has been out for almost two months (I think?) at the time of you posting this.

    Most of the travelling time can be negated by making smart use of the moongates, and after the G3 release, it’s often possible to hitch a ride with someone that possesses a twoseater mount.

    In general, I’d say the ‘amazingness’ you didn’t find happens when you actually grok (lol, internet lingo, first time I’m actually using the word) the combat system. Of course, if that never happens to you for some reason or another, I can see that the game can be frustrating.

    Also, I’d like to add that the only reason that I actually took the moderator seat is that I want to prevent a worst case scenario like the previous moderator from happening again. I’m not even playing that actively at the moment, given some RL friends muscled me back into EVE.

    Either way, I’ll give up recommending games to you, I suppose. Our tastes just don’t seem to match.

    • August 1, 2010 at 1:27 am

      The game’s combat system -is- intuitive and quite clever, but the timing window is so incredibly strict. You know how utterly frustrated I became because of that. I know that you managed to master the system and a lot of other people have too, but for me it was always my barrier to entry and since this was my review of my experiences, I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t mention it.

      I hope you don’t give up recommending games to me, because if anything you always point me towards something new. Mabi was new and interesting, it just wasn’t for me. And I liked EVE, even if I didn’t stick with it (due to not getting into a corporation). I knew you’d disagree with this review but I hope it doesn’t drive a wedge between us. :/

  2. xahldera
    October 26, 2010 at 2:34 am

    Find it a shame you didn’t like it. I seemed to have become rather addicted to the game. Yes I will admit the combat system is a little frustrating. Even more so given my connection is a bit laggy and *always* seems to lag at the most important times. Or worse, randomly disconnects. However I still like the game a lot and possibly spend far too much time on it…XD

  3. xahldera
    October 26, 2010 at 2:36 am

    I should point out that recently they did put out the new Generation patches for the European servers and they do add a lot more things to do. It’s not all been plain sailing though due to some bugs still remaining.

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